On what basis do people decide what is good and what is bad? Many people think that our ideas about justice, goodness and the right way to live can only have come to us through the commandments of an almighty and perfectly good God. In 380 BC, the philosopher Plato wrote a dialogue called Euthyphro which highlights a problem with this way of looking at things. In the dialogue, Plato’s teacher Socrates asks his friend Euthyphro this question. “Is that which the gods love good because they love it, or do they love it because it is good?” If the former is true, then the gods could choose to love anything they want, whether or not we humans would consider it good. A god could decide that something we think of as bad was good and vice versa. Alternatively, if the gods love the good simply because it is good, then what is good and bad must exist independently of any God. So whether there is or is not a God, I don’t think that believing in God or following the teachings of ancient scripture can absolve us of the responsibility of deciding which values and ideas are going to govern our lives. I think we have to discern these values using experience and an understanding of human nature, and whatever creed you believe in, deciding what is good and true is ultimately a judgement you make yourself. The fact that we have decided to think one thing or another does not necessarily make us right, but carefully thinking about our actions and there likely consequences has to be a better foundation for the good life than blindly following the rules laid down in ages past by people whose understanding of life was limited.
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